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Opinion This one sentence from Trump perfectly captures the GOP convention house of horrors

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said "I love the media" as he tested his microphone. (Video: Video: Reuters/Photo: Ricky Carioti)


Tonight Donald Trump will give the speech of his life. The question isn’t just whether Trump can regain control of the GOP convention house of horrors and project a reassuring aura of competence and stability after Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse him unleashed rage and bedlam that continues to resonate this morning. It’s also whether he can use the occasion to broaden his appeal in a way that the previous nights, which were focused on riling up the GOP base with calls to imprison Hillary Clinton, arguably did not.

In a new interview, however, Trump signaled that he sees no need to try to broaden his appeal at all. Note this amazing exchange with New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman:

HABERMAN: What do you think people will take away from this convention? What are you hoping?
TRUMP: From the convention? The fact that I’m very well liked. Look, I got more votes than anybody in the history of the Republican Party. Almost 14 million votes. I got 37 states. Kasich has one. As an example, Ted had, you know, not many. Thirty-seven states. Now, with the roll call, I had 44 states. It was 44 to seven and the seven was everybody else: 44 to seven. It was 44 to six because we are including the different islands. And when you are in that hall and you see those people, like yesterday, my daughter called up, she said, “Dad, I’ve never seen it — it’s total love.”

This is revealing on several levels. Trump wants the key takeaway from the whole convention — including his speech tonight — to be that people come to appreciate that he is very well liked, specifically, that he is already very well liked. Not that he hopes to spell out his and his party’s vision for America (if you can call it that) with new sweep and clarity. Not that he hopes to demonstrate that this vision is preferable to the opposition’s. Not that he hopes people who are undecided in this election, concerned about the country’s future, and choosing between those two competing visions will come away reassured and persuaded by his own.

From the crowd booing Sen.Ted Cruz to vice presidential nominee Mike Pence delivering a speech, here's what happened during the third day of the Republican Presidential Convention. (Video: Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

Underscoring the point, note that his reply suggests that he is still living in a mental universe dominated by the glory of his big victories in the GOP primaries, echoed by the “total love” that (his adoring daughter informs him) rains down on him from the convention audience — which is to say, hard core GOP primary voters. He’s basking in the love of those voters in particular, and this is what he wants the broader American audience to take away from his grand spectacle.

It’s possible, of course, that this was just an offhand comment from Trump. But it’s worth noting in this context that the convention’s over-the-top imagery thus far has come to resemble a festival of narcissism. In his initial lurid entrance on Day One, as Dan Balz notes, Trump “rose up silhouetted on the stage in a smoky cloud,” making “a Las Vegas entry in the heart of the Rust Belt.” On Tuesday he called into the convention floor from his grand apartment atop Trump Tower, ensuring that network footage of his soaring black Trump-logo-festooned skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan would be juxtaposed with shots of the convention hall decorated in his honor, thus broadening the visual paean to his dominance. Yesterday he arrived in a Trump-logo-festooned helicopter to the blaring cinematic music of “Air Force One.”

Donald Trump walked on stage at the Republican National Convention July 18 to Queen's "We are the champions." (Video: The Washington Post)

So, yes, Trump has established that he is “very well liked.” But as Bill Galston explains, conventions, and particularly acceptance speeches such as the one he’ll deliver tonight, are supposed to be about a lot more than that:

Successful acceptance speeches at national party conventions accomplish two tasks: they lay out what is at stake in the forthcoming election in clear, unmistakable terms; and they do what is necessary in the circumstances of the times to build majority support, not only for the nominee personally, but also for the nominee’s strategy for surmounting the most urgent and important problems of the day….
Trump faces a divided Republican Party and uncertain prospects for an electoral majority. His task is not to mobilize his core supporters, but to heal his party and to broaden his support beyond its usual ranks. He cannot do that by recycling the rhetoric of his primary campaign.

Trump is surely “very well liked” by Republican voters, but his speech tonight comes at a moment where he is suffering historic unpopularity among many groups that he must expand his appeal among, such as women, college educated whites, and young voters. Many of his leading prescriptions for addressing what he says are our biggest problems — the mass deportations; the ban on Muslims; the trade wars; the massive tax cut to the wealthy that would blow an enormous hole in the deficit — are either opposed by majorities or are broadly condemned by experts as reckless and destructive. Large majorities believe Trump is unqualified for the presidency.

What it looked like at the Republican National Convention on Day 4

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the Republican National Convention on Thursday, July 21, 2016. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Yes, Hillary Clinton has plenty of problems, and yes, the race is close. But it isn’t that close: Clinton holds a modest but meaningful lead. Yes, there’s a long way to go, and yes, Trump could of course still win. But Clinton’s convention is likely to be far more unified, far more tightly organized, far more upbeat and optimistic in tone, and far more geared towards reaching out to the broader electorate than Trump’s has been.

Maybe Trump will rise to the occasion and meet all these challenges tonight. If not, this one quote will perhaps help explain why.


* TRUMP’S NATO COMMENTS SET OFF ALARMS IN EUROPE: In that New York Times interview, Trump also raised new questions about his commitment to defending NATO allies from attack. NBC reports that this is setting off alarm bells in Europe:

The comments were perceived by some analysts as carte blanche for Russia to intimidate NATO allies and a potential harbinger of the alliance’s collapse were Trump to be elected. NATO’s treaty states that an attack on one member state constitutes an attack on all, a principle enshrined in Article 5 of the alliance’s treaty. “If Trump wants to put conditions through Article 5, he would endanger the whole alliance,” said Beyza Unal, a fellow at the London-based Chatham House think tank.

Of course those pointy-headed Euro-weenie bureaucrats are afraid of a Trump presidency. That’s because he’d put an end to their scam and put America First again.

* BE VERY AFRAID OF TRUMP’S NATO QUOTE: Jeffrey Goldberg explains why:

Trump is making it clear that, as president, he would allow Russia to advance its hegemonic interests across Europe and the Middle East. His election would immediately trigger a wave of global instability — much worse than anything we are seeing today—because America’s allies understand that Trump would likely dismantle the post-World War II U.S.-created international order. Many of these countries, feeling abandoned, would likely pursue nuclear weapons programs on their own, leading to a nightmare of proliferation.

But Trump will be strong, so all will be well.

*  CRUZ WARNED TRUMP OF NO ENDORSEMENT IN ADVANCE: The Trump team professed shock and outrage over Cruz’s refusal to endorse, but David Drucker reports that top Cruz adviser Jason Johnson says Trump knew what was coming:

Cruz, Johnson said, made it clear to Trump during an in-person meeting in Washington a few weeks ago that he would not endorse him, and said so to Trump again this week when the two spoke by telephone. “Sen. Cruz told him directly that there was not be an endorsement,” Johnson told the Washington Examiner after the speech. “It would have been Trump’s right at that time to say not to show up, and that decision would have been accepted.”

Trump runs a world class operation, let me tell you.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) explained why he did not endorse then-presidential candidate Donald Trump on July 21, 2016. (Video: Reuters)

* NETWORKS STRUGGLE TO COVER CONVENTION: Dan Balz notes that some of the GOP convention speeches have been successes, but also points out this:

Many speakers have left the audience flat and the television networks scrambling for counter-programming. Ordinarily, the networks spend most of the hour between 10 and 11 p.m. with their cameras focused on the stage and the speakers. This week, because some of those speakers have lacked star power or a compelling message, the networks have cut away. Through its own scheduling decision, the campaign has robbed itself of what should be its best opportunity to deliver an undiluted message on behalf of the candidate.

It’s turning out that the ultimate reality TV genius, the master of spectacle, can’t even put on a good show.

* TRUMP, DEFENDER OF THE CONSTITUTION: Cruz told the audience to “vote their consciences.” Here’s how Newt Gingrich, a leading Trump supporter, responded to that:

“Ted Cruz said: ‘You can vote your conscience for anyone who will uphold the Constitution.’ In this election, there is only one candidate who will uphold the Constitution.”

Yep, entrust the Constitution to the guy who admires various dictators, would impose a religious test for entry into the U.S., has flirted with closing mosques, and bans news organizations from covering his events.

 * MIKE PENCE’S DISSEMBLING ABOUT CLINTON, SCRUTINIZED: In his speech yesterday, Pence repeated a number of old favorites: Clinton is to blame for ISIS and for the “disastrous” Iran nuke deal; and Clinton “left Americans in harm’s way in Benghazi.”

Glenn Kessler and Michelle Lee have all the facts and context you need on these claims. What remains striking is the stale, recycled nature of these charges, which nonetheless continue to be crowd-pleasers. For this crowd, anyway.

* AND BEHOLD TRUMP’S GRAND ‘TOP GUN’ ENTRANCE: The New York Times relays this riveting account of Trump’s arrival at last night’s festivities:

After his Trump-branded jet landed midafternoon, Mr. Trump flew in a Trump helicopter to a grassy patch near the convention arena — a theatrical projection of status captured by cable news cameras. Then, to the theme music from “Air Force One” — a film about a gutsy president who kills a terrorist with his bare hands — Mr. Trump alighted from the chopper to give Mr. Pence a handshake and kiss his daughters.

On Mike Pence’s big day, the man just can’t stay away from the cameras.